By Luke Serrano.

It seems like secondary school music education has undergone continual evolution for about a decade or so; the waves of technological development have facilitated ever more sophisticated approaches to the teaching and learning of music in the classroom.

For the teacher, music is the kind of subject that always benefits from this kind of technological advancement, mainly because there is so much to do. We’re run off our feet most of the time, and always looking for efficiencies which deliver better results for everyone.

For example, let’s consider the preparation of a teacher-written arrangement of a song for a school band. In the prehistoric age, we wrote all of the instrumental parts by hand, a laborious, mind-numbing task. Then came programs like Finale and Sibelius, and miraculously, part preparation became (almost) a thing of joy.

Perhaps the most significant step forward for many music departments has been the installation of a dedicated music computer laboratory for composing, audio recording, research, directed listening and theory/aural skills activities. The software that is available through site licenses is often professional and extremely well-suited to educational uses. When computers are linked to the internet, giving students even greater access to resources, this method of content delivery works well, but there is one very significant drawback – how do students access resources outside of class lesson time?

This is where the iPad comes into its own. As many schools make the iPad a fundamental learning tool for all students, making the transition from textbooks to e-books (with apps forming the ‘booklist’ that parents are required to buy for each subject), music teachers now have the capacity to put much (if not all) of the content of their subject in the hands of the student, as well as powerful and easy to use tools that will greatly assist in the development of the student’s musicianship. Students can work anywhere, anytime, with a minimum of fuss, leading to a potential for greatly improved educational outcomes.

With over 11,000 music apps available on the App Store, locating educationally useful apps could be quite a daunting task. Thankfully, a combination of factors makes it far less difficult than having to wade through all 11,110 Apps (sorry, that’s now 11,198!). Firstly, as music teachers we have a good idea of the aspects of music education that we may wish to cover.
So using more specific search terms narrows things down considerably. Furthermore, sometimes only a brief exploration of each of the four or five competing apps devoted to a task is enough to make it clear to the trained eye which will be the most useful.

The purpose of this article is to provide the music teacher who is new to exploring the iPad and App Store with a place to start. It is inevitable that with different teacher methodologies, teacher and student needs, curriculums and school budgets, everyone will develop their own list of ‘must have’ apps. Here I present my personal top 10, which I have kept as broad as possible. It is not a list especially geared towards any particular instrument or musical style. It is a list of powerful tools that should make teaching and learning easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

1. Avid Scorch ($1.99) “The Avid Scorch app transforms your iPad mobile device into an interactive music stand, score library, and sheet music store”.

This app is set to do away with sheet music for good. Sibelius is the standard desktop program for score writing, both professionally and in education. This app allows you to read Sibelius scores (and parts) on your iPad, eliminating the need for printing and photocopying. Avid Scorch enables the user to transpose the music and also play it back, while following a caret (excellent for developing sight-reading skills). Unfortunately, at this stage it is not possible to add text or to highlight passages on the score. It is not possible to edit the score in any way, apart from transposition. The Sibelius scores are synched to the iPad via iTunes.

As iPads become ubiquitous in the classroom, this app will become the portal via which teacher arrangements and much sheet music bought on the Sibelius website will be accessed. Incidentally, many publishers are already making their catalogue available direct to the public in this form – they have produced their own music reader apps. No longer will music even be published in hard copy form; e-scores will be all that are needed, and far preferable.

For the transference of pre-existing hard copies of sheet music, a good PDF program is needed which can read the scanned music. To this purpose I suggest Good Reader ($5.49), which is generally regarded as the most reliable PDF reader currently available. This program does allow for adding text and highlighting.

There is no word as yet on the possibility of either a full or simplified version of Sibelius (or Finale) being made available on the iPad. It would appear inevitable, but until that day Symphony Pro ($15.99) is the best notation program currently available if you simply can’t wait.

2. Discovr Music ($1.99) “Discovr lets you see how the music you love is connected, and makes it easy to find great new bands and artists that are similar to what you like.”

Very simply, choose an artist and the app suggests four or five related artists, which in turn link to four or five other artists, and so on. Double clicking on any artist brings a wealth of biographical information, audio samples and YouTube and e-store links.

Discovr Music is an ingenious means of expanding one’s musical horizons, and offers a compelling new way of exploring musical history. I have explored pop, jazz and classical traditions and found it to be (for the most part) very accurate; indeed, the more artists that are added, the more accurate it becomes, as intricate relationships are clarified visually by proximity. It also reveals the links between genres and artists previously thought to be quite separate. Musical style is thus seen as a continuum, or as a web, not as segmented compartments.

Incidentally, the Discovr Apps ($1.99) app is the best way to search for apps on any topic, and I strongly advise readers to buy this app before anything else. It will save a lot of time and make the experience of app shopping far more pleasant.

3, GarageBand ($4.99) “Garage Band turns your iPad into a collection of Touch instruments and a full-featured recording studio. Enjoy a range of Smart instruments that make you sound like a pro- even if you’ve never played a note before.”

GarageBand has received much positive press for its polished interface and user friendliness. Indeed, it tries to be all things to all people – a toy for those with next to no musical ability, a powerful creative tool for the musically experienced. In its favour is the way it incorporates many methods for entering sounds, by manipulating on-screen guitars, string instruments and drums, as well as keyboards. The absence of woodwind and brass is a bit of a mystery. Educationally, the problem I have with this app is that it’s too easy to ‘cheat’ your way to getting decent sounding music, and thus harder to assess exactly what the student understands, and what the app has done for him/her. However, it is good for engaging junior secondary music classes in composition tasks.

4. MusicStudio ($15.99) “Music Studio offers a complete music production environment for the iPad with features and a sound quality only known to desktop applications and expensive audio hardware.”

Music Studio requires a good knowledge of the piano keyboard, as all tracks (apart from audio) are entered via the virtual keyboard. This app may be less visually exciting than GarageBand, but ultimately is much more powerful as a compositional tool (and there is no way to cheat your way to musical competence). The free ‘lite’ version is worth a look, but for saving your work and accessing all the available sounds and effects, the rather pricey full version must be purchased. Good for senior secondary music classes.

5. Anytune Pro ($10.49) HQ ($15.99) “Anytune will help you learn to play or transcribe your favourite music by giving you the amazing power to slow down the tempo, adjust the pitch (transpose in semitones – up to an octave above or below), and repeat loops.”

Anytune Pro is a fabulous tool for the instrumental/singing teacher or choirmaster. HQ offers superior audio quality. What sets this time/pitch shifter apart from the competition is the quality of the interface and the extreme convenience that your entire iTunes collection is able to be immediately accessed in the app without having to be specially imported. Too easy.

6. Tuner!! ($0.99) “An easy-to-use accurate visual chromatic tuner for your instruments.”

This is easily the best tuner from the plethora that is available. Not only is it accurate and quite good even for low pitch instruments (tuners are always better at picking up high frequencies, this one worked even with my bass clarinet), but it also visually represents the fundamental pitch and overtones and their relative strengths, with superb responsiveness. Thus, this is not only a tuner, but a visual means of representing timbre. It can also be set to Eb, F, A, Bb, D and G, as well as concert pitch, so there’s no more need for constant transposing in your head if you play a transposing instrument. The tuning pitch of ‘A’ can also be adjusted from the modern standard of 440Hz to anything between 392Hz and 493Hz.

7. Tempo Metronome ($0.99) “Bestselling and most accurate metronome on the app store.”

An excellent interface allows for easy tempo adjustment using this app. Repetitive rhythms can be overlaid on the basic tempo and meter. Great value.

8, Tenuto ($4.49) “Tenuto is a collection of twelve customisable exercises designed to enhance your musicality. Tenuto also includes five musical calculators for accidentals, intervals, chords, analysis symbols, and twelve-note matrices.”

At this stage there is no iPad equivalent of the excellent desktop programs Auralia and Musition to comprehensively cover aural skills and theory knowledge. Tenuto, in conjunction with its website (which can be accessed from within the Tenuto app) does a decent job of covering the basics, and is suitable at the junior secondary level, especially if music theory is being taught from scratch.

9. iHarmony ($0.99) “iHarmony is a complete collection of all the scales, chords and harmonisations you can find in music.”

iHarmony is a library of scales and chords that senior secondary music students may find useful. The one major criticism I would make is that dominant 7th chords are strangely referred to as “Major 7 (minor 7th)”. Very peculiar. Also, #11 chords are not included. Hopefully later updates will significantly improve this app.

10. Rhythm Sight Reading Trainer ($2.99) “This app gives you a solid basis for a good rhythmic feel.”

This is an excellent rhythm trainer which provides very good feedback for the user as to their rhythmic accuracy on every note. All kinds of meters and rhythmic patterns are explored (including ties), and the tempo can be fully adjusted. It is very useful for beginners through to advanced music students. A must have app!

Luke Serrano B.Mus. (University of Melbourne), L. Mus. A., Dip. Ed. is the Music Curriculum Coordinator at Parade College, Bundoora (Victoria). He has over ten years’ experience teaching classroom music from year 7 to 12, instrumental music (woodwind) and ensembles covering a wide range of music styles from classical to jazz and rock bands. In the wider community Luke is active as a composer, conductor and saxophonist/clarinettist. This is his first article for Education Technology Solutions.


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Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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